Panels on Financing, Communications

Reno & Cavanaugh Discusses the Development Landscape for PHAs

Efrem Levy, Sarah Molseed, and Martin Walsh, all attorneys at Reno & Cavanaugh, PLLC, started the Thursday afternoon sessions with a discussion of public housing development models.

The trio discussed three possible development models. The first model is a typical mixed-finance development where the development, ownership, and management are all carried out by the private developer. The second model is a hybrid model where the PHA and a private developer share the development responsibilities, and the ownership and management are handled by the PHA. In the third model, all activities are carried out by the PHA. When the panel asked the PHAs in attendance whether they had used these models, several PHAs indicated that they had used one or more. When the panel followed up with the members in the audience with questions about their experiences, many provided great insight about their experiences, and how they would approach development in the future. After the member discussion, the panel provided several examples of development deals they have worked on across the country.

Kansas City Housing Authority Executive Director Ed Lowndes and Special Master Jeff Lines discussed special need development and their evolving role as a developer. Irma Gorham, Paterson Housing Authority Executive Director, shared her experiences partnering with a private developer. Akron Housing Authority Executive Director Tony O’ Leary described how they had gained capacity to take on the role of developer. (His hand-out is here.)

Telling the Public Housing Story in Tough Times

Charlotte Housing Authority (CHA) Executive Director Charles Woodyard moderated the closing panel of the day. In his opening remarks, he said his communications plan was designed very specifically to show the public the authority “knows what they are doing.”

Tory Gunsolley, Chief Administrative Officer, Newark Housing Authority, gave the first presentation, saying he mirrored the overall Newark approach with the media, focusing on openness, transparency and availability.

He discussed different scenarios, from responding to events and to pitching stories to reporters. He emphasized the need to build relationships, to help reporters do their jobs. He said it was important to remember that reporters see themselves as ‘the good guys’. He acknowledged that Newark was helped because their new leadership team was so different from the previous one. (He had a reporter that started covering Executive Director Keith Kinard before he even left Pittsburgh.) He also pointed out that national media have a very different agenda from local press and require a different approach.

Neill Coleman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at HUD, talked about the two main types of PHA-related bad stories they are asked about: corruption, and tenants living in bad conditions.  With a situation like Philadelphia, he stressed the importance to act quickly and make it clear there was a commitment to find out what is going on. He also described the aggressive approach HUD took responding to the recent ABC Nightline report. They posted the full videos of interviews with Assistant Secretary Henriquez to demonstrate how her quotes were taken out of context, and wrote extensively about the many errors in the piece.

He used an example from HANO as a way to respond to stories of tenants living in poor conditions. After a report showed a voucher holder living in a rat-infested apartment, David Gilmore was quoted as saying “It doesn’t look like we did a very good job taking care of her. We need to learn from this.” 

Jennifer Gallman, Corporate Communications Officer for Charlotte, described the way the authority had completely rebranded itself, including an extensive mission statement revision. “We wanted to show we were running this like a business, that we were not just a government entity.”  Charlotte now describes itself as “a non-profit public real estate holding company” that has become “a national leader in mixed-income developments.” Charlotte also makes extensive use of social media, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. They recently merged their video production with the city’s, a partnership that will cut production costs and help them reach a wider audience. (CHA PowerPoint presentation here.)